NEW YORK (PIX11) — For more than one million children and their families, Thursday was the first day of public school in New York City. It was also the third straight day of a heat advisory, with temperatures in the 90s.
The Department of Education has made it a policy to put an air conditioner in every classroom. That policy was put to the test to counter heat in the air, on a day in which the air was also filled with excitement.
Fourth grader Ameena Kydd said that she’d enjoyed her first day at P.S. 89 here because “They let us draw.”
She and other students at the school said that air conditioners were working, allowing them to do activities in class.
Sandra Patino, a third grader, said that the first day was thrilling, because of her teacher.
“I realized I was in Ms. Hank’s class,” she said. “Ms. Hank is my favorite.”
Sandra’s mother, Barbara Patino, said that her daughter was anticipating the start of the school year.
“She was so excited,” the mother said, “she woke up at six in the morning,” well before her alarm.
There was excitement at schools across the city, including at P.S. 121 in the Bronx. It was the location where city dignitaries welcomed students back to school, including Schools Chancellor David Banks, who’d invited his boss, Mayor Eric Adams.
In the schoolyard, the mayor talked with, hugged, high-fived, and made hand-hearts with students, faculty, and parents. He also spoke with reporters about his own traumatic experiences, as a child with dyslexia.
“I dreaded school,” he said. “I used to pray every morning, ‘Please don’t call on me.’”
The mayor and the chancellor also said that the DOE is focused on helping learners with a wide variety of challenges, including those that the mayor had had while growing up.
More immediately, though, another challenge was evident, when Mayor Adams had to remove his wool jacket in the schoolyard. Even before school began, temperatures were too high to wear a suit.
By early afternoon, the mercury reached the 90s. Even though the DOE had committed to an air conditioner in every classroom this academic year, and had largely succeeded, Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, the teachers’ union, said that without total A.C. coverage, his members and their students were at a disadvantage.
“They haven’t finished the job to make sure every classroom is air conditioned,” Mulgrew said about the DOE.
That task is vital, said a pediatric surgeon and specialist in the effects of heat on children.
“My husband is a teacher,” said Dr. Susannah Hills, in an interview, “and controlling the environment is really hard.”
“If [schools] don’t have adequate ventilation,” she continued, “that has to be addressed.”
She also advised parents to send a bottle of water with their child to school every day, and to have them wear lightweight clothing during this hot week.
At P.S. 89, in Queens, though, “They have air conditioning,” said Camilo Bernabe, a parent.
However, he said, “The buses don’t.”
He pointed to his son, a third grader, and said, “He’s come from the bus dripping, like somebody threw a bucket of water on him.”
Bernabe also said that on Thursday, the school bus had neglected to pick his son up for school. He said that he’s also concerned about a possible school bus drivers’ strike that could begin as early as next week, if bus owners and drivers don’t agree on a contract. The strike could affect 80,000 students.
Another issue families face was pointed out by P.S. 89 parent Miguel Hernandez, as he showed what was in a large shopping bag he’d brought to the school.
“Ziploc bags, notebooks, color pencils, color markers,” he said, listing just some of the items that the school is requiring each family to bring, if they can.
The list was two pages, and the cost, Hernandez said, was not low.
“One hundred forty,” he said, listing the dollar amount. “Times three, yeah,” he said.
Hernandez has three children in school — one in fourth grade, one in seventh, and an eighth grader, as well.
They, and all of the one million-plus students in the system, will be served, said Chancellor Banks, in a presentation at P.S. 121 Thursday morning.
The key, he said, is the DOE’s plan to build a foundation of literacy for the youngest students, which gets built upon.
“The number one issue, and you will hear me say it everywhere that I go,” the chancellor said, “is what we are doing with reading.”
“Phonics,” he said, is the foundation “to be able to develop confident readers. You don’t enjoy being a good reader if you don’t know how to read.”